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SHE WOULD BE KING

A sweeping and entertaining novel encumbered by an unwieldy plot.

An ambitious, genre-hopping, continent-spanning novel that uses the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as the backdrop for a magical realist adventure.

Following four characters from far-flung corners of the African diaspora, debut novelist Moore tells the story of Liberia's formation in the mid-19th century. When a Virginia slave named Charlotte dies while trying to protect a fellow slave, her death sets in motion a series of supernatural events that changes the tiny West African nation's history. Her son, June Dey, flees from the plantation and soon discovers he has superhuman strength. He boards a ship for New York only to find himself headed for Liberia. Meanwhile, a white British scholar named Callum Aragon arrives in Jamaica to study Maroon communities and forces the Maroon slave Nanni to assist him. Nanni soon saves Aragon's life with the help of a peculiar ability: She can become invisible under certain circumstances. Nanni eventually gives birth to Aragon's son, a boy named Norman who possesses abilities similar to his mother's. Across the Atlantic, in a West African village called Lai, a little girl named Gbessa is born on a day that the village elders have proclaimed cursed; as a result, she garners a reputation as a witch. The reputation isn't entirely unearned: Gbessa has abilities that allow her to return from the dead. Cast out from her village, she becomes anathema to everyone but Safua, a little boy who promises to help her. June Dey, Norman, and Gbessa eventually find themselves united in Liberia as the fledgling nation is being wracked by incursions from French slave traders and tensions between black American settlers and African natives. Their desires for freedom and family drive them into each other’s arms—and toward a major event in the history of Liberia's formation. Moore is a brisk and skilled storyteller who weaves her protagonists' disparate stories together with aplomb yet is also able to render her sprawling cast of characters in ways that feel psychologically compelling. In addition, the novel's various settings—Virginia, Jamaica, and West Africa—are depicted so lushly that readers will find themselves enchanted. Unfortunately, getting these characters' stories to intersect at the back end of the book requires a level of narrative contrivance that sends the tale careening out of myth and into the realm of clumsiness.

A sweeping and entertaining novel encumbered by an unwieldy plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-817-4

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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